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Bill needs further debate

THE contentious Land Bill 2009 is inches away from becoming law after it was railroaded through parliament on Wednesday.

The Bill was passed mainly by ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party MPs after opposition MPs walked out of parliament protesting that there had not been enough consultation on the proposed law.

This week the Bill will be passed on to the senate.

The upper house, dominated by the LCD, is largely expected to assent to the proposed law.

But it would be tragic for democracy if the Bill were to be enacted against the loud chorus of disapproval from the opposition quarters.

We do not believe the opposition is making all this noise for the sake of merely opposing the Bill.

By bulldozing the proposed law in the face of mounting resistance, the government could have confirmed opposition fears about the Bill which has been described by some critics “as an attempt to sell land to foreigners”.

The opposition has also accused the government of railroading the Land Bill to fulfil the major prerequisite allegedly set by the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation to release US$20.5 million for Lesotho’s land reform project.

The government has rebuffed the accusations, insisting the Bill was critical to overhaul Lesotho’s land administration and tenure system.

We totally agree land reform is critical for economic growth and in the fight against poverty.

But a responsible government cannot ignore dissenting voices no matter how urgent it is to redress the land issue. 

Democracy thrives by incorporating both the majority and minority views of the people.

As much as the Bill is not deleterious in its entirety, the crux of the opposition’s argument is that not enough consultation over the proposed law has been done.

We would like to agree.

We suspect the ordinary Mosotho does not even have a clue about the legislation.

Yet it’s the ordinary man who will be largely affected – whether positively or negatively — by the Land Bill.

Let’s also bear in mind that about 80 percent of Basotho stay in the rural areas that are most likely to be affected by the enactment of the Bill.

And we need not remind anyone that all those people rely on farming activities for survival — never mind agriculture in the country has been on the decline.

It’s clear then that the Land Bill will affect the majority of Basotho, whether they have been productively making use of their land or not.

We are talking about people’s way of life here.

If the opposition wants more consultation on the Bill then the government, for goodness’ sake, must do the right thing and take it back to the people.

What will harm the government’s broader agenda of stimulating economic growth through this proposed law if the Bill was to be put up for public scrutiny one more time?

This mad rush to pass the Bill is precisely what gives the opposition the impression that the government has ulterior motives.

As the government becomes more belligerent the opposition becomes more emboldened.

While land reform, of which the Land Bill is part of, is critical it will not change people’s lives for the better at the stroke of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s pen. 

The Bill, for example, empowers an authority to approve the allocation of land for industrial purposes but does not empower the affected people to stop such developments.

We will have poor people being driven from their land without their consent in the name of development.

The opposition has been saying these people — the majority of Basotho — have no clue about the intricacies of the Land Bill even if the law was supposedly drawn in good faith.

The government cannot just wish away such fundamental concerns.

We believe land is such a sensitive issue that has to be dealt with sensitively.

It is unfortunate that the LCD has had to use its parliamentary majority to muscle through such a sensitive Bill in the face of what appears to be genuine concerns.

The Bill should not only be debated exhaustively in parliament but must also incorporate the views of the ordinary man.

It beggars the question now why the government is in such a hurry to enact the Bill.

We do not, of course, believe the government has sinister motives in pushing for the legislation.

But even then, the ordinary man needs to understand the content of the Bill before it becomes law.

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